All Those Lonely People
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All Those Lonely People

From Series: A Study in Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes 4:1-16  (ID: 2294)

Countless people are desperately groping for meaning as they go through life, becoming ever more dissatisfied, lonely, and restless. How does one find hope and meaning in today’s world? Alistair Begg teaches that true satisfaction can be found only in Jesus Christ. He is a friend to the friendless, offers peace for the weary, and is a Savior for sinners.


Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, we pray that as we turn to the Bible together, that you will be our teacher; that beyond the voice of a mere man, we may hear your voice and by your grace be enabled to trust in you and to follow you with all of our hearts. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

Do be seated. And I invite you to turn again to the portion of Scripture that was read earlier, in Ecclesiastes and chapter 4. And we encourage you to turn it up and look there to make sure that what’s being said is actually in the Bible. It’s very, very important.

Some of you may just have arrived this morning, and you are falling into this series in Ecclesiastes, which we’re conducting at around sixty thousand feet, moving a chapter at a time through the book as best we can. And we are confronted here by the wisdom of the Preacher or the Teacher or the Professor—all of these equally valid translations of Qoheleth, which is literally translated “Ecclesiastes.” Or, if you like, we are listening to the wisdom of the individual we may describe as the Pundit—somebody who brings profound thoughts to bear upon the issues of life as they confront them.

And this individual, we’ve been discovering, is conducting a search. He’s ransacking the world to try and solve the riddle of life. He is conducting an experiment, if you like. He is exercising his wisdom largely within the framework of secular thinking. Every so often, he punches, as it were, beyond the clouds that are “under the sun” and goes out into a realm where he is able to bring divine wisdom to bear on earthly analysis. This groping for meaning—which, essentially, it is—is not, as we’ve been discovering, being conducted in a laboratory or in a library, but rather, it is being conducted in the university of life. He’s walking down streets not dissimilar to the streets of Cleveland. He’s stopping, as it were, at the street corners and conversing with men and women. This individual would have got a lot of his material from sitting in the variety of coffee shops and cafes which are now part and parcel of life on the American High Street.

And the issues of life that he addresses he sometimes overstates in order that he might bring them graphically to the face and recollection of his readers. And there’s an energy to what he’s doing, which conveys just how serious he really is. And at the heart of it all, he’s really asking this: Can there be any real and lasting purpose if dust is our destiny? Is life meaningful, or is life meaningless?

Now, that seems to me to be a very contemporary—and it will always be contemporary—search. It’s not difficult to find men and women who in their heart of hearts are trying to unscramble this issue—trying, as it were, to deal with the great equations of life and make sure that the left-hand side balances out the right. And so, as we move through these chapters, we’re confronted by his insights.

They’re not the easiest of chapters, I think you would agree, to try and analyze and set down in an orderly fashion. Wisdom literature isn’t easy to tackle. And I think I’ve been making that clear in the first three studies. I actually was greatly encouraged when, twenty-two years ago, I first studied this book and read in a commentary this particular sentence: the commentator said, “The book,” referring to Ecclesiastes, “defies any logical analysis, and therefore no Outline of Contents is presented.”[1] So he basically says, “I don’t know what to do with this. I can’t make chapters out of it or paragraphs out of it, so I just made nothing out of it at all”—a bit like the Puritan preacher who had preached a big, big, big, long sermon in the morning, and at one point he’d been heard by his congregation to say, “And now, twenty-seventhly…” And when he came back in the evening, he said, “My sermon this morning had so many points that I want you to know my sermon this evening is going to be pointless.” And there is a sense in which, in trying to gather thoughts, we may, in grasping it, miss it. However, we have to do something. And we have to give some kind of structure to it in order that we might attach our thinking.

And if you look at chapter 4—and you can do this as your homework—you can go away and say, “If I had to teach this to a group of individuals, if I had to say something sensible about this, what are the kind of things that would stand out to me? What are the words that I would write down on a sheet of paper as I began to study?” And I think that you would find that when you looked at verse 1, you would immediately find the little phrase jumping out at you, “they have no comforter.” Why? Well, because it’s repeated, and repetition is always for emphasis. And so, immediately, we’re onto something. Immediately, we have an idea of where we’re going.

As you read on and you get down into verse 7, you see the description of meaninglessness again, and this individual in verse 8: “a man” who was “all alone; he had neither son nor brother.” And so you say, “Well, there’s no comforter, and here in verse 7, there’s no companion.”

And you get further on into it, and you see at the end this foolish king and the upstart youth and the transition of power and popularity, and you say to yourself, “There doesn’t seem to be any continuity here at all. No comforter. No companion. No continuity.” And you begin to build this little verbal collage.

And as you stand back from it, you say, “There is a word that seems to come to mind here, and it is the word aloneness, or it is the word loneliness.” And there seems to be, hanging all of this material together, an experience that is common to men and women.

When Paul describes the experience of the Ephesians in 2:12, he reminds the Ephesians that before they discovered who God is in Christ, they were “without hope and without God in the world.” And that, incidentally, is one of the great classic statements which describes the ebb and flow of humanity today in greater Cleveland: cars coming and going, driving north and south and east and west; people going about their business in the thoroughfares of life. And what is it that describes them? Well, actually, whether they identify it or not, they are without God and they are without hope in the world. And the sense of angst that they may feel, the sense of dissonance that they experience, the disengagement with their friends and neighbors, the sense of disengagement in their own souls is all traced to this one pivotal and foundational reality.

Now, in chapter 4, he describes this condition essentially from four angles. And I want to address them, but very briefly. Because I don’t want to dwell this morning on the condition. I feel like I’ve done that enough in the opening studies. But I want to dwell a little longer on the solution. And I’ll give you my headings. They may not strike you as particularly helpful, but at least I can be honest in sharing them with you.

You’re Better Off Dead

When I read verses 1–3, I wrote down on the page, “You’re Better Off Dead.” Verses 1–3 I summarized as “You’re Better Off Dead.”

Now, if you look at it, you can see why I wrote that down, because that is what he’s saying. “Consider the bitter facts of life,” he says. “Look at all the oppression that takes place under the sun.” And he is writing three thousand years ago, approximately. And he is describing what Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, says: that “Man’s inhumanity to man / Makes countless thousands mourn!”[2] We turn, and we look back down the corridor of history, and what do we discover? We discover that the observation here in these opening verses is absolutely accurate: “I have seen the oppression of men, and they have no comforter, and power is on the side of the oppressors”—whether it is racial, in the Southern states of America, in the twentieth century; whether it is racial, in the apartheid of South Africa, also in the twentieth century; or whether it is racial and ethnic, as in the Nazi regime of the twentieth century; or whether it is racial and ethnic, as in the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, also in the twentieth century. So we could go on. This individual makes a very good point: power is on the side of the oppressor, and the oppressed have no comforter, and no one seems to step in for them. “And,” he says, “that seems to me to be absolutely terrible. It is a miserable business.”

I just introduced my youngest sister to the film Life Is Beautiful, the Italian movie with the English subtitles, by Benigni, or featuring Benigni, who won an Oscar for it, I think—the fellow who walked across the backs of the seats when he was picking up his Oscar. A wonderful film. If you haven’t seen it, you can safely go out and rent it and watch it with your grandmother. It will cause you no upset at all. (Incidentally, if you cannot watch a movie with your grandmother, you shouldn’t be watching the movie in the first place.) And it is a classic statement of the oppression of the Holocaust.

In mentioning Cambodia—I’m on a little movie thing at the moment—but in mentioning Cambodia, no film that I have ever seen has ever had such an impact on me; I could hardly tolerate myself when I finished watching it. And I’m talking now of The Killing Fields. It’s an old movie. It’s the story of the Khmer Rouge; Dith Pran, the journalist, trying to extricate himself from the killing fields, escaping into Thailand; and the vivid pictures there of these dreadful fields as he begins to stumble and bumble around, and he’s standing on skulls and he’s standing on skeletons as he thrashes through the water. And there’s nothing sadder in the whole of Ecclesiastes than the wistful glance here of the writer when he looks wistfully at the dead and the unborn, and he says to himself,

  I declared that the dead,
 who had already died,
are happier than the living,
 who are still alive.

“You’re better off dead! In fact,” he said, “I can only take it up one further notch: you’re better if you’ve never even been born,” he says. “That’s how bad it is.”

Teenagers figure that out. They say it at some point along the journey to their parents, don’t they? Slam the bedroom door, they say, “I didn’t ask to be born!” And Johnny Carson’s famous reply is “And if you’d asked, I would have said no”—expressing the great pain that is involved in that struggle and the awareness of life’s finitude.

In a film that I don’t really like, with music that I really enjoy, Out of Africa, Countess von Blixen, played by Emil Streep… Not Emil Streep. Meryl Streep. It’s my dyslexia again. I’m sorry. Meryl Streep. (I’m going to convince you that I’m dyslexic, and also that I’m afraid to fly. I’ve already convinced you I’m afraid to fly, which I’m not. Now I’ll be able to convince you I’m dyslexic. But anyway… That’s fine. You should be very, very careful. That’s why I only pay attention to the Bible.) Countess von Blixen in one scene stands at the grave of her friend Denys, who’s been tragically killed in a plane crash, and in a soliloquy, she says, essentially under her breath, “Smart lad, to slip betimes away from fields where glory doesn’t stay.”[3] She says, “He’s better off gone. This is a miserable existence.”[4]

Envy, Poverty, Anxiety

Verses 1–3: “You’re Better Off Dead.” Verses 4–6, I wrote down just three words: “Envy, Poverty, Anxiety.” “Envy, Poverty, Anxiety.”

When we are moved and stimulated simply by keeping up with the Joneses, it will prove an insufficient motive, and it will provide no ultimate satisfaction.

And once again, there is an overstatement here—vigorously stating something for effect. Look at what he says: “I saw … all labor and all achievement,” they “spring from man’s envy of his neighbor.” The motivation, he says, that makes the world go round is the desire to outshine the next fellow. The girl on the plane with the folder and the laptop is driven in part to make sure that she outshines the person in territory West, or at least that she is not outshone by the girl who is in territory West, she being in territory Center. And the wheel of life is driven by a competitive spirit. And the point that he’s making is this: that when we are moved and stimulated simply by keeping up with the Joneses, it will prove an insufficient motive, and it will provide no ultimate satisfaction. If you go to work to keep up with the Joneses, then the Joneses will always be one step ahead of you. If not that Mr. and Mrs. Jones, there will be another Mr. and Mrs. Jones. And if that is our motivation, then our reach will always exceed our grasp. And so he says it’s absolutely futile.

The opposite extreme, poverty, in verse 5—“The fool folds his hands and ruins himself”—he says that is equally useless. Look at this lazy individual: idleness eating away not only what he has but also what he is, eroding his self-control, his grasp of reality, his capacity for care, and, in the end, even his self-respect.

Incidentally and in passing, the juxtaposition between verse 4 and 5 is the source of many a disagreement in suburban households all across America. Verse 4 describes the father. Verse 5 describes the son. The father is completely driven—going, going, going, going, going. He says to his son, “Why can’t you be like me? How long are you going to sit around growing your hair and listening to that dumb rock music? How long do I have to put up with it before you finally step up and realize, smell the coffee, find out what life is all about.”

And the boy closes the bedroom door and says, “You can keep it! I’m not interested in being like you. I don’t want to be like you! I don’t like the fact that you’re gone all the time. I don’t like the fact of what you’re doing to my mother. I don’t like your impact in the home here. I don’t like the fact that apparently, we’re driven by some envious, jealous, acquisitive, spurious notion. And I know I look to you like I don’t care about anything, but if you ever came and talked with me, Dad, you’d find out I care about a lot. And I care about a lot of people. And I care about a lot of the oppression that apparently you don’t care about and your business interests in South America don’t care about. Otherwise, those people would be making a reasonable wage.”

And then the father, he slams the door: “Not only do I have a lazy son, but I have a communist for a son! The whole thing is going haywire on me. What am I going to do? What do you mean? These people should be thankful for seventy-three cents an hour. If we didn’t go down and give them seventy-three cents, they would have no money.”

And the son says, “It’s clear we’re gonna have to go down two different roads, Dad. You’re living envy. I’m facing poverty. And both of us are going to be racked by anxiety”—the anxiousness of the acquisitive grasp, the anxiousness of the “Where is it coming from?” question.

And so, in a moment of insight, look at what he says: “Better one handful with tranquility­ than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” In other words, better to have modest earnings and a restful mind than to make large gains with the accompanying anxiety. Better modest earnings and a peaceful heart than huge gains and an anxious soul.

You say, “Well, this is an argument for doing poorly, is it?” No! It’s an argument about motivation. It’s a comment on the notion of contentment. You ask the average suburban housewife if she is happier today, with the however-many-car garage, searching everywhere in her purse for opener one, opener two, opener three—opener for the opener, for the gadget to get to the gadget, to ring the bell, to find the keys, to press the button, to do the code, whatever it is—ask her if she’s happier now, with all of this, than she was when she and her husband, in the fledgling days, carried cardboard boxes up the stairs into their two-room apartment and laid the rug on the floor that her mother-in-law had given her, which she thought was one of the ugliest rugs she’d ever seen in her life. But now she looks back and says, “That was a beautiful rug. Oh, yes, it was.” And her husband says, “That’s a flat-out lie! You hated that rug! You bugged me: ‘Go to work! Go to work! Go to work! Get me a decent rug! Get me a decent rug!’ And for the last twenty-five years, basically, I have been going crazy to get the rug, to get the silverware, to get the thing, to get the that. And now you tell me, ‘Oh, I loved it back in the two-room apartment!’”

And you see again how marriages begin to fall apart, how the aggravation and the expectations begin to tip in on one another. But the fact is that wives do long for the good old days, when there was time to relax, when there was time to enjoy. And they would give anything to go back there in contrast to the dissatisfied restlessness which is their experience. The dissatisfied restlessness.

Now, loved ones, hear me correctly. There are peculiar temptations in the land of the free and the home of the brave in this realm, and we have to handle them. You buy an ice cream cone in other parts of the world, you can walk down the street with it in safety. Now, you could argue that that is because they don’t give you enough ice cream. You could also argue that is because they give you a sensible amount of ice cream. Everything’s perspective. But do you know how many times I have dropped ice cream out of an ice cream cone in the street? Do you know what that does to a Scotsman’s instincts when all of that money falls on the ground? And do you know why it fell? ’Cause I really only wanted one scoop with tranquility. I didn’t want two scoops with anxiety. And you see these girls digging in: “Whoa! Whoa!” I mean, they’ve got muscles on them! “Whoa!” And then they jam it on, jam it on, and then walk around like this. That’s a paradigm of where this place is! This is our home! This is our place! Proud of it, sensitized to it, anxious about it? “Envy, Poverty, Anxiety.”

A House Too Large for One

Verses 7 and 8, I just wrote down one phrase: “A House Too Large for One.” “A House Too Large for One.” “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.” “No end to his toil,” no contentment.

You see this picture? It’s reproduced all across America today. I think of all of my experiences, apart from going into bereavement homes, nothing has given me a sense of sadness like the description that is here: “A House Too Large for One.” North Carolina, a beautiful home set in the midst of acreage which was in turn set in larger acreage, split-rail fence, corrals for horses, four-wheelers, three-wheelers, skis for the winter, snowmobiles for the winter, toys for the summer, large-screen TVs, stereo systems, plenty of seats on which to sit in the great room, a large dining area, lots of silverware, all kinds of glasses for every occasion. And into the kitchen you go. You find one cereal bowl turned butt up, and a spoon lying against it, and a coffee cup turned on its head. And in this lovely home lives a man all on his own. He never planned to be on his own. He didn’t build the house for himself. And he’s described right here in the pages of Scripture: “No end to his toil.”

And he says to himself, “Why am I even doing this, and why am I depriving myself? Look at all the gadgets that I bought, and where are my children to enjoy them? Where is my wife to embrace her? Where has it all gone? How did I get here?” And some of you may not be here, but some of you might be considering it as an idea. Give up your silly ideas this morning.

It’s Lonely at the Top

And finally, under verses 13–16—having done what I said I wouldn’t do, and that is take too long on these four things—I wrote under verses 13–16, “It’s Lonely at the Top.” “It’s Lonely at the Top.”

This is a picture of continuity or discontinuity. The king gets old and crusty, too long in the saddle. He needs to go. A young buck rises up. Everybody loves him. The young buck moves perhaps from poverty to kingship. Listen to the people cheering for him. Look at the people following him. Listen to the people criticizing him. Look at the crowd as it dwindles. And look as he is now removed from the saddle and someone else gets ready to take their place in the process.

And that doesn’t need to be kingship and royalty. It can be the structure of corporate life in America. It can be the transition within the educational establishments of the country. You’re brought into the room, and the people sit down. You know as soon as you sit down, this is not going to be a good morning. And somebody comes out with a phrase like this: “Reginald, we’ve been talking, and we’ve decided that this company is going in a new direction.” And inside yourself, you’re saying, “Why doesn’t this feel good?” And the answer is because that is a synonym for “Cheerio, Reginald! We’re going somewhere, and guess what? You’re not coming.”

Me, not coming? You, who headhunted me? You, who said that I held the key to the development in this whole area? You’re telling me that you’re going in a new direction without me?”

“Yes. And you know what? When we’ve dispensed with your successor, we will dispense with her as well.”

Now, there you have it. Look at it. Is that a wrong summary? “You’re Better Off Dead.” “Envy, Poverty, Anxiety.” “A House Too Large for One.” And “It’s Lonely at the Top.”

You’ve Got a Friend!

“Well,” you say, “you missed a section.” Yes, I did! That’s why I want you to keep your Bible open; you’ll notice! Verses 9–12. Verses 9–12, I wrote this phrase down: “You’ve Got a Friend!” “You’ve Got a Friend!” ’Cause this is the great news, you see.

Sting writes,

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress;
You could say I lost my belief in the holy church;
You [could] say I lost my sense of direction;
… You could say all … this and worse, but

If I ever lose my faith in you,
There’d be nothing left for me to do.

Some would say I[’m] a lost man in a lost world.[5]

What, has he been reading Ecclesiastes 4? You see what he’s saying? “I have no confidence in the institutions—whether they are scientific institutions or religious institutions.” And some of you are here this morning, and that’s exactly where you are: “I’ve given up on scientific rationalism. It’s a dead-end street. I’ve also given up on established religion, because that apparently is full of con men and clowns. And the only thing that I have to hang my hat on is you,” whoever you is—the object of my affection, this girl, this fellow, this dream, this person, this entity. “And if I ever lose my faith in you, I don’t know where I’ll go.”

Well, let me tell you something: there isn’t a person on the face of the earth that can meet your needs. There isn’t someone with whom you can live and sleep who can satisfy your desires. There’s not a friend with whom you can buddy up through life who will be able to reach into the deepest longings of your soul. And if the absence of affection does not drive you apart, death will. And therefore, it is not macabre; it is simply realistic to say, “Well, in light of that, maybe his observation at the beginning is right. Maybe it’s better if you’re never born at all. Maybe the best people are those who’ve already punched out.

But no! “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.” This lovely little picture here is super. If you’re up a ladder, it’s helpful if somebody’s waiting for you down below, especially if you’ve forgotten the hammer. “Could you give me the hammer, Mary, Bill?” If you don’t, you have to go down and get it and come back up. If you fall off the ladder, it’s better if you have a friend who can at least pick you up, dust you off, and help your bruised ego. “But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” What a shame to be there!

Also, when you were a student and you lived all by yourself—as I hope you did—and you snuggled up to yourself to try and keep warm on those cold London nights with the rain seeping in through your bones, and you said, “How do you keep warm alone?” But “if two lie down together, they will keep warm.” Now you find yourselves saying, “You’re so hot! Could you move?” And “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” It’s better for a kid to have a mom and a dad rather than just a mom or just a dad.

Is Life Meaningful or Meaningless?

Now, I want you to turn to one verse, and I’m going to stop. I’m going to put the landing gear down now so that we can stop—on final approach, seatbacks in the upright and locked position, tray tables safely stowed, and all your carry-on baggage put back under the seat or in the overhead compartment.

Ephesians 2:12. He says to these Ephesian believers, “[I want you to] remember that at that time”—that is, before they knew Christ—a number of things were true of them. They were “separate from Christ.” They were “excluded from citizenship” in England—“in Israel”; they didn’t belong. (That’s a Freudian slip). And they were “foreigners to the covenants of … promise.” And notice: they were “without hope and without God in the world.” Pretty miserable situation, wouldn’t you say? Aloneness: separated from God, separated from others, separated from family, and separated from myself.

But look at this fantastic verse 13: “But now…” A transformation has taken place. This is a description of what it means for men and women on Lonely Street to be welcomed into the embrace of Christ: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”

Jesus was forsaken in order that you and I might be forgiven.

This is the message of the gospel. This is the good news that finally comes firing out of the pages of Scripture. And what we discover—and I don’t have time to unpack it—is simply this: that these individuals had been loved without realizing. They had been loved without realizing. The God that they had slighted and ignored had come to seek them out the way a shepherd seeks out a lost sheep. And here you are this morning at Parkside, and you feel yourself to be on this journey. You feel yourself to be alienated and living alone or whatever else it might be. And the message of the gospel to you is this: you have been loved without realizing. “God so loved the world…”[6] And he loves you!

They discovered also that they had been purchased without deserving. That’s the significance of “the blood of Christ”—that he shed his blood on the cross to get rid of the bad thing. What is the bad thing? Well, what is your bad thing? I’m just using that as a synonym for sin. How do we get rid of this? Is there a way to get a clean start, a new page, to hit the Delete key and to move forward? Yes, there is. How? In the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was forsaken in order that you and I might be forgiven.

So they were loved without realizing, they were purchased without deserving, and they had a constant companionship that penetrated their aloneness. You were “brought near”—near, proximity. You were once far away; now you’re near. Once God was away up there. You didn’t know who he was or what he was. But now you’re near. Now you call God “Father.” Now you praise him for his goodness. What happened? You were converted!

And my dear friends, if you do not call God “Father,” and if you do not praise him for his goodness, and if you do not have the experience of being brought near, then the reason is probably that you’re still far away. And that’s why everything seems so constantly at dissonance to you. God is away up there. The songs are fairly meaningless. You don’t sing them. You’ve no interest in singing them. When you pray, you simply close your eyes and think about yourself. There is no notion of being brought near to God. You don’t go out onto the streets and say to men and women, “You know, I found in the Lord Jesus friendship and proximity and forgiveness and a future and a hope.” You never say that because you haven’t!

And the ultimate division this morning is not an age division or a financial division or an intellectual division. The ultimate division in this congregation this morning is between those who are still far away and those who are brought near. And the purpose of God in Christ is to bring near those who are far away—not a system, not a moral code to attempt, but a friend, a guide, and a Savior. And when you’re brought near, you go to heaven. And you don’t go on your own; you go with a big group of people—a big, funny group of people called the church family. Look around! What a funny bunch, huh? Look in the mirror, and start with that individual. A whole new family. You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. And you can’t choose your church family either.

You say, “Well, there’s a bunch of weird people in this church.” Couldn’t agree more! Churches, railway stations, and libraries: full of very strange people.

When you’re weary
[And] feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
[He’ll] dry them all.

When you’re down and out,
When you’re on the street,
When evening falls so hard,
[He] will comfort you.[7]

See, unlike Buddhism or Hinduism or Shintoism or Confucianism or whatever other ism you want, Christianity is absolutely unique. Every other religion is man’s attempt to penetrate divinity. Christianity says, “I have come to you in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have lowered down a pontoon bridge to you, and I have lowered it down in a person, not in an idea. This is not Scientology: ‘Go in the back room somewhere and figure it out for yourself.’ I have come in a person that you can see.” And this person laid down his life in order that you might walk right over that bridge of troubled water and understand, from Paul Simon to James Taylor, that

Hey, ain’t it good to know
That you’ve got a friend?
[’Cause] people can be so cold;
They’ll hurt you,
[They’ll] desert you,
… They’ll take your soul
If you let them.
… Don’t let them!

You just call out [his] name.[8]

And I’m telling you: wherever you are, he is. And he hears the cries of the kids. And when you, who are far away, by his goodness are brought near, then you’ll find yourself saying,

What a friend I have in Jesus,
All my sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer![9]

“Do my friends despise, forsake me?” Yeah! “Is there trouble anywhere?” Yes!” I don’t need to be discouraged. I can take it to the Lord in prayer.”[10]

We’re done. Here’s the question: Is life meaningful or meaningless? Without God, without hope in the world, it is absolutely meaningless. With God, with hope, it is absolutely meaningful. Goodness, if I was offering you a product—if I had a vacuum cleaner for you where it was so patently obvious that your old, monkied, messy vacuum cleaner is so horribly inferior in comparison to what I’ve just offered you—you’d be running up the front, the first one with your checkbook out: “Give me this! Give me this!” But who’s running up the front to embrace Christ? No one! Because it’s not like getting a vacuum cleaner. It’s like getting married: solemn, life changing. Someone sleeps with you, stays with you, walks with you, talks with you, knows you intimately, drives your car, goes in your sock drawer, understands every single thing about you, and loves you just the same.

I have nothing else to share with you. I have no one else to offer you, save Christ.

Let us pray:

O God our Father, we thank you that the Bible speaks right into our lives today. And down at the end of Lonely Street we find a friend—such a friend!—who loves us before we even know it, draws us to himself, woos us, even in our wanderings, even in our slightings of him, even in our rebellions. Because Jesus saves sinners.

So, help us to know this Christ and to love him and to follow him. And may his grace and mercy and peace be our portion, today and forevermore. Amen.


[1] G. S. Hendry, “Ecclesiastes,” in The New Bible Commentary, ed. Francis Davidson, A. M. Stibbs, and E. F. Kevan (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 539.

[2] Robert Burns, “Man Was Made to Mourn: A Dirge” (1784), lines 55–56.

[3] Out of Africa, directed by Sydney Pollack, written by Kurt Luedtke (Universal Pictures, 1985).

[4] Out of Africa. Paraphrased.

[5] Sting, “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” (1993).

[6] John 3:16 (NIV 1984).

[7] Paul Simon, “Bridge over Troubled Water” (1970).

[8] Carole King, “You’ve Got a Friend” (1971).

[9] Joseph M. Scriven, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (1855). Lyrics lightly altered.

[10] Scriven, “What a Friend.” Lyrics lightly altered.

Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.